Friday 8th July, Madrid, Spain
What can I say that hasn't already been said? My heart goes out... blah blah blah... all the innocent people... blah blah blah... this cowardly act.... blah blah blah. It's all starting to sound like a record that has been stuck since late 2001.
Of course I felt the same revulsion as every other civilized person on the planet when I heard about the bombings in London yesterday. I felt the same sadness for the innocent people of that city, who had just been going about their business the same as me and you. I felt the same pain as the reported death toll grew, but still allowed a little relief that the carnage was not as massive as previous Al Quaeda attacks. I felt the same fear that one of the victims may have been a friend of mine. Then I wondered whether that would make it any worse. If not one of my friends, that body on the stretcher would surely have been someone else's friend, someone else's son or daughter, mother or father, someone with a promising future and a wonderful life ahead of them. Fifty deaths undoubtedly adds up to thousands of lives torn apart by this pointless slaughter, and hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives that will never be the same for the fear that is slowly and deliberately being driven into us... and that is my most grave concern...
I read this comment on a Madrid Messageboard that I am a member of...
"We seem to have had these kind of A-holes throughout human history, and I don't think that there has been one singularly identifiable century over the last 20 to 30 thousand years in which human beings have not been at war with one another in some form or another, it's always been like it, since primitive human tribes started to set out to over power and take control of other tribes, and it simply has never stopped, and is still going on today in the so called 21st century, different tribes (now called races, nationalities, cultures) looking for conflict with other tribes, at first to steal their food & water supplies, when they were short, then later, their women, and later still, their children for sacrifice to their so called gods, in order to bring about a better supply of food/crops/water/rain et cetera, and many centuries later, to take over their lands, then for their wealth/riches/treasures, and then political gain, then for religious superiority, and so it goes on, and on, and on, and on"
There is, in my opinion, one defining difference between the wars of our past and the 'war' that we find ourselves engaged in since 9-11. Historically, wars have been waged between nations, or at least between distinctly different and identifiable groups within a nation. Traditionally, these warring parties even wore uniforms to distinguish them from each other, and in our more recent human history conflicts have been governed by 'rules of war', one of which prohibits a combatant from disguising himself by wearing the uniform of his enemy. Of course this is no longer the case. Today we face an enemy which does not have the might to wage war in a traditional sense, and therefore resorts to attacking from the inside, invisibly, like a virus. This enemy is faceless, does not live within a border, and is unseen even to watchful eyes until a jet ploughs into a highrise, or a double decker bus peels itself open in the middle of a street. If all the combined intelligence forces of the western world have been unable to prevent the attacks since 9_11, what will our governments be able to do in the future? How can you fight such an enemy?
Of course, while this scourge of terrorism is new to many of us, it is not entirely unprecedented. It is something many people have been trying to deal with for decades or longer; Israel under continuing attack from Palestinian suicide bombers, England suffering at the hands of the IRA, and here in Spain the terrorist group ETA being responsible for several hundred innocent deaths over the years. That's just to name a few...
I have two concerns regarding the 'sudden' spread of this type of 'warfare' into the world at large. The first is that we will become jaded to it, that it will become so much an unavoidable part of our world that we will almost accept it. In fifty years time, with terrorist bombings a regular part of our daily life, will we blandly refer to each attack as 'the Bali nighclub bombings', or 'the Madrid train bombings', as if they were merely historic incidents, just one of many small dots on our planet's time line? My other concern is that the terrorists will succeed in what is -as far as I can see- their only objective, and that is to strike fear into our hearts, to make us hateful and suspicious, and to eventually destroy the freedom and the way of life that we have for so long taken for granted.
What can our governments do? I don't know. What can we do? Well, I know one thing we musn't do, and that is to allow the terrorists to defeat our human spirit. Two years ago, when I started this project, I wrote "Since September 11, 2001, and the subsequent terrorist attacks around the world, many of us have succumbed to a feeling of fear and dread. These are troubled times but in times like these it's more important than ever- I believe- to get out there, and prove that the world is still a great place!" If you are in any doubt, click on the 'search journal' link, and scroll through some of my past journal entries. You will witness the inspring human kindness and compassion that I have found among ordinary people around the world. There are those who would say that the world is a dangerous place, that you mustn't talk to strangers, that hitchhikers are all murderers and that hitchhiking is dangerous because motorists who pick up hitchhikers are also murderers. Well in all my travels, hitchhiking from place to place and sleeping in the homes of complete strangers, I have never been murdered even once, and I'm proud to say that I haven't murdered anyone either. What can we do to combat the terrorists? We can hold our heads high, we can keep smiling, we can be helpful to strangers, and we can discover the world that we live in. We can live our life to the fullest. Or we can sit at home peeping through the curtains like frightened mice, in which case the terrorists have already won.
Just as I was midway through writing this update, I received an email from a friend of mine in the US. It was one of those forwarded emails that are so common these days (especially common when you have a couple of thousand people on your mailing list!) In light of everything I've written above, this one has incensed me to the point that I can't even stop to eat breakfast until I have responded to it. I don't blame my friend who sent me this email- everyone has a right to their opinion, and mine is probably just as stupid as yours! It's not up to me to condemn her personally, or others who have forwarded this document around the web, or even the original author. I don't know what experiences they have had that has led them to their opinion. But I am also entitled to my opinion, and since this is my website, I have the right to express my opinion here as fact. If you disagree with what I write on my own website, you are wrong! If you want to show thousands how wrong you are, feel free to dispute me on my messageboard. All levels of stupidity are permitted on my messageboard, and I won't delete any posts as long as they are relevant to the discussion.
An honest and frank sharing of ideas and views is always a good thing. I'm reminded of an evening that I spent in my favourite Irish pub back home in Brisbane, sharing quite a number of pints with two devout IRA supporters. As soon as our opposing viewpoints became obvious, we agreed that we would not take personally anything that the others said, and that we would not allow our discussion to degenerate into hostility. (This was especially important for me, since there were two of them and they were particularly hefty gents!) I told them that the IRA were a bunch of mindless, butchering bastards, and that the innocent victims of the terrorists were murder victims. They said that the IRA were fredom fighters, and that the schoolgirl who just happens to be walking past a parked car when it exploded into a thousand pieces is no more than a casualty of war. At the end of the evening, we shook hands and thanked each other for the stimulating and honest conversation. They certainly hadn't changed my opinion against murdering innocent people in the name of a 'cause', and I doubt I softened their standpoint much, but I'm sure it was an enlightening experience for us all.
Now, back to that forwarded email... Rather than respond just to my friend, I'm going to paste the original document below, and add my own response in bold type throughout.
"WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT TO TURN ON THE TV AND HEAR ANY U.S. PRESIDENT, DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN GIVE THE FOLLOWING SPEECH?
"My Fellow Americans: As you all know, the defeat of Iraq regime has been completed. Since congress does not want to spend any more money on this war, our mission in Iraq is complete. This morning I gave the order for a complete removal of all American forces from Iraq. This action will be complete within 30 days. It is now to begin the reckoning."
As much as I would love to see US forces withdrawn from Iraq (for a number of reasons!) doesn't the US government have some responsibilities to the people of that country, the people who they were supposedly trying to 'liberate'? That's right- it was the 'liberation of the people' that was cited as the reason for going ahead and attacking Iraq, that is after it became obvious to all and sundry that the 'undeniable evidence' of Weapons of Mass Destruction had been totally fabricated by the Bush/Blair syndicate. Since when is it okay to launch a military offensve against another country without UN approval, or indeed with total UN condemnation? I guess when you're the planet's only superpower. I don't think that my many American friends would consider it a very liberating act to bomb the shit out of a country, then leave it in ruins. Although it has been done before. I say that I welcome the timely withdrawal of US troops from Iraq for a number of reasons. That is because I am just as concerned as anyone by the mounting death toll amongst young American servicemen in that country, fighting a war that they have been told to fight in the name of something or other. An old friend of mine, who had left the US Army years ago, was recalled and sent to Iraq in January. Repeated attempts to contact him by email have seen no response, and I worry for his safety. So don't tell me I don't care about the soldiers.
"Before me, I have two lists. One list contains the names of countries which have stood by our side during the Iraq conflict. This list is short. The United Kingdom, Spain, Bulgaria, Australia, and Poland are some of the countries listed there. The other list contains everyone not on the first list. Most of the world's nations are on that list. My press secretary will be distributing copies of both lists later this evening."
"You're either with us, or against us"... sounds a bit like the words of a particular German madman who wanted to take over the world sixty years ago, no? As for the countries on 'List 1', Spain is a bad example. Spain, under the leadership of right wing president Aznar joined America in its oil war on Iraq as a kiss ass gesture to solidify relations with the US. This was highly unpopular among the Spanish people. When Al Quadea murdered 192 innocent Madrilenos on March 11th 2004, the Spanish people would stand for Aznar no longer. How could the terrorist attack on a friendly country like Spain be seen as anything but payback for the country's involvement in the US led offensive? The Aznar government tried desperately to draw attention away from the facts, insisting that the attacks were nothing to do with Spain's foreign policy, instead blaming the attacks on the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA. They governemnt even denied telephone calls from Al Quaeda, claiming responsibility. They even went as far as phoning a number of embassies in Spain and asking embassy staff to tell journalists that the attack was perpetrated by ETA, and then stepped in and took over television programming the next night, airing a documentary about ETA. But facts are facts. It was not ETA. It was Al Quaeda. Three days after the bombings in Madrid, the Spanish people went to the polls and Aznar received a swift kick up the ass, replaced by left wing Zapatero, who had promised to immediately withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq, a brave move to shun the most powerful nation in the world, but a move that was welcomed by the good people of Spain.
Australia is also a poor example to use in this argument. Australia, a massive, resource rich nation with a tiny population and by world standards, a small defence force. We can no longer rely solely on the protection of our imperial mother country on the opposite side of the world. We need a strong ally, and that was the decision that our Prime Minister 'little Jonnie' was faced with. Australians were overwhelmingly against getting invovled in this unwarranted war, but 'little Jonnie' was unable to resist the bullying of his powerful friend George W. Out of fear of the consequences, he shook hands with the most powerful man in the world and sent a huge contingent of our forces to Iraq. Take out those two countries, and List 1 is becoming quite a small list. Poland and Bulgaria? Well, I don;t want to insult the good people of Poland and Bulgaria, but really? Hardly the 'Coalition Of The Willing' that George W and his bitch Blair were touting.
"Let me start by saying that effective immediately, foreign aid to those nations on List 2 ceases immediately and indefinitely. The money saved during the first year alone will pretty much pay for the costs of the Iraqi war. The American people are no longer going to pour money into third world Hell-holes and watch those government leaders grow fat on corruption. Need help with a famine? Wrestling with an epidemic? Call France."
Hey, great idea moron! After all, we're not all human beings on this planet. We're either Americans and non-Americans, no? The starving people in famine ridden Africa? Screw 'em. Just look after yourself. In fact, why even help others in your own country? Why not every man for himself? Your neighbour is starving? To hell with him. When he starves to death, you can steal his tele. It seems the human race has spent centuries battling to come to terms with the fact that this is a small, fragile planet we live on. What happens in one country affects another. The oceans are all interconnected, and we are feeling the effects now of our past recklessness in environmental policy. Millions of good hearted people around the world are struggling to bring about some sort of justice on our planet, and right now there's a huge push by the citizens of the world to pressure the richest countries to wipe off third world debt, and to make Earth a place where people should never starve to death. But it seems that there are those amongst us who have no qualms letting a mother watch her child starve to death. Explain to me the big difference between a dying American and a dying person from another country. Oh, of course you would help people from countries that buckled to your bullying and supported your unjustified war. God help you if you ever need help, mate. Cause the people who walk past you may be just like you. You're worried about foreign aid ending up in the hands of corrupt government leaders? Why not come up with a way to direct this aid to the people who need it? That's a lot of politicians you've got there in America; surely at least one of them will be smart enough to figure out something.
"In the future, together with Congress, I will work to redirect this money toward solving the vexing social problems we still have at home. On that note, a word to terrorist organizations. Screw with us and we will hunt you down and eliminate you and all your friends from the face of the earth. Thirsting for a gutsy country to terrorize? Try France, or maybe China."
Nobody could argue that the US doesn't have its own problems at home. Skyrocketing numbers of homeless, an ever widening rift between the rich and the poor, a swelling class of 'underemployed' that live hand to mouth with no social security... the list goes on. Somehow, these have never seemed of a high priority to the government. But why focus solely on the (admittedly large, but small in relation to GDP) money invested in third world aid? What about the countless billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone up in smoke by invading Iraq in the first place? I don't have a degree in economics, but I don't think one is required to know that a damn good social security infrastructure could have been put in place, rather than building bombs to drop all over Iraq, and sending your young men and women to die.
"I am ordering the immediate severing of diplomatic relations with France, Germany, and Russia. Thanks for all your help, comrades. We are retiring from NATO as well. Bon chance, mes amis. I have instructed the Mayor of New York City to begin towing the many UN diplomatic vehicles located in Manhattan with more than two unpaid parking tickets to sites where those vehicles will be stripped, shredded and crushed. I don't care about whatever treaty pertains to this.You creeps have tens of thousands of unpaid tickets. Pay those tickets tomorrow or watch your precious Benzes, Beamers and limos be turned over to some of the finest chop shops in the world. I love New York ."
"I'm taking my bat and ball and going home!" History has shown that empires come and go. You might want to be careful not to burn your bridges.
"A special note to our neighbors. Canada is on List 2. Since we are likely to be seeing a lot more of each other, you folks might want to try not pissing us off for a change. Mexico is also on List 2. President Fox and his entire corrupt government really need an attitude adjustment. I will have a couple extra tank and infantry divisions sitting around. Guess where I am going to put em? Yep, border security. So start doing something with your oil. Oh, by the way, the United States is abrogating the NAFTA treaty- starting now. We are tired of the one-way highway. Immediately, we'll be drilling for oil in Alaska - which will take care of this country's oil needs for decades to come. If you're an environmentalist who opposes this decision, I refer you to List 2 above: pick a country and move there. They care."
More threats. Canada, you better kiss our ass or we'll... what? Blow you up? 'That your answer to everything? And drilling for oil in Alaska? Immediately! To hell with a few caribou and one of the planet's last remaining great wildernesses. Another sterling idea, with no regard for the future. A shortsighted idea that has no place in our supposedly enligtened twenty-first century. Anyone opposed to this wild destruction should leave America? Why not round them up and put them in concentration camps? They'll only cause trouble of you don't kill them. They may be your fellow Americans, but if they don't support the government's position, you better get rid of them. Hitler.
"It is time for America to focus on its own welfare and its own citizens. Some will accuse us of isolationism. I answer them by saying, "darn tootin." Nearly a century of trying to help folks live a decent life around the world has only earned us the undying enmity of just about everyone on the planet. It is time to eliminate hunger in America. It is time to eliminate homelessness in America. It is time to eliminate World Cup Soccer from America."
It is about time that the American government finally addressed some of its own problems. Banning World Cup Soccer? Well, I don't like soccer anyway, but while you're at it, why not burn all the books that aren't clearly supportive of your doctrines? Ban foreign television, or was that already such an obvious move that you didn't feel the need to mention it. Censor all media. Cut off your citizens' access to foreign web sites. Obviously, you will no longer have a market for your exports, so millions of your people will be instantly out of work and on the streets. You'll also have no imports, so expect to watch the supermarket shelves empty themselves within days. Ever seen photos of the people lining up for food in Communist era Russia? Hey, how much do you reckon your teenagers will have to pay for a pair of trainers when NIKE and REEBOK can no longer rely on exploiting the pathetic living standards of third world countries with their sweatshops? I assume all US foreign investment will be cut off, yes? And the billions of dollars of foreign investment in the US will be withdrawn immediately, resulting in millions of extra job losses overnight. How much time have you spent formulating this cunning plan? Even if the masses are too disempowered to stop you, do you really think your honchos in big business will aloow you to go ahead with such an isolationsit policy? Their livelihood relies on being able to abuse the inequality between the nations of the world. They'd be falling over each other to have you assassinated before you had a chance to even finish your speech.
And as for "nearly a century of trying to help folks live a decent life around the world" ... is that what you've been doing? How sweet of you. You say you have earned "the undying enmity of just about everyone on the planet". Well, not quite. It's been my experience that the people of America are a kind, compassionate people, friendly and inquisitive. I have spoken to American backpackers who claim to be Canadian when travelling in Muslim countries. They quickly realize that it's not necessary, that even those dastardly Muslims can distinguish between the good hearted men and women of your country, and the greedy, selfish motives of your government. But I'm afraid that if enough people start spouting the ignorance and bigotry that you have written here, the rest of the world will gradually lump all of your fellow citizens in with the likes of yourself. That would be a shame for my many friends in America. I've spent almost a year and a half hitching the highways and byways of your country. Just as well, because I guess you will ban all foreign tourists in your new isolationist policy? Have you stopped to spare a thought about that?
"To the nations on List 1, a final thought. Thanks guys. We owe you and we won't forget. To the nations on List 2, a final thought: You might want to learn to speak Arabic."
Hatred, suspicion, paranoia. Seems like the terrorists have already succeeded. Wouldn't it be an option to just nuke the pesky 'rest of the world'? You can do it, so why not?
"God bless America. Thank you and good night.
DARN TOOTIN'. WHAT A RETARD!!!
Want to have your say? Go to my messageboard.
And then everything is put into perspective when you exit a Madrid restaurant with your girlfriend and her parents and aunt and uncle, only to be greeted by a transvestite who promptly bares his/her globelike breasts to you on the footpath.
So to lighten the mood a bit I've added ten more photos to both my funny photos and funny signs slideshow. Also, you'll find a couple of new videoclips and slideshows by follwoing the links in the left hand column of my journal page. If you want to learn how to get rid of annoying telemarketers, I can tell you how. Just click here. And if you're in a bit of a contemplative mood, you'll find a few inspirational thoughts here.